Our children need to be given every opportunity they can to help align the paths of development and environmental sustainability. Those opportunities begin in our education system.
In a recent weekly address President-elect Barack Obama conveyed part of his plan to jump start the economy through the creation of green jobs by energy-retrofitting government buildings and schools: “My economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen. We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms. Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools.”
These words are a flash of brilliance that makes me believe in the hope and change ahead for America. It is from our youthful generations that the next wave or innovation and entrepreneurship will come, so why shouldn’t they have every advantage the 21st century can offer.
There are numerous paybacks from investing in the physical infrastructure of our education system. In a world where Americans spend on average 90% of their time indoors, improved daylight, comfortable thermal surroundings and healthier learning environments have been shown to improve the attention and retention of inhabitants, in addition to inspiring creativity and raising test scores. The US Green Building Council will tell you that in the working-world improved indoor environmental quality can increase worker productivity by as much as 16% and reduce absenteeism by up to 40% — envision the benefits for students in a classroom. Moreover, the annual operating costs of these school buildings will be reduced up to 30% or 40%, leaving considerably more loose change in the school budget to pay for new text books, facilities, and teachers’ salaries.
But when looking at the bigger picture, the true long-term investment and largest benefit of all is that the buildings and classrooms become learning tools in themselves. Imagine it: science teachers can take their classes on field trips to their own rooftops to learn the workings of solar power. An Economics or Business class can explain opportunity cost and the concept of “saving” by looking at the energy efficiency of their own light bulbs, air conditioners, and building design.
Children will grow up with an understanding of sustainability that stems from the beginning of their education. They can look to their own school and begin to understand the complex way in which a solar panel or energy efficient light bulb is connected to melting ice caps and loss of biodiversity. The importance of climate change and sustainable growth will be problems they must face for their entire lifetimes, not just a fraction of it. But perhaps if they are surrounded by the answers, the technologies, and the positive change they will be inspired to bring us all to new heights.